Trusting Someone Is Heritable, Whereas Distrust Is Not

Trusting someone seems to be significantly influenced by genetics, while distrust is not.


Trust may be the most important factor in successful relationships. A person trusts another when they feel that they can be vulnerable and everything will be alright. Although, a new research by scientists from the University of Arizona suggests that trusting someone is depends on our genes while distrust does not appear to be inherited in the same way.

Martin Reimann, assistant professor of marketing in the UA’s Eller College of Management said, “Both trust and distrust are strongly influenced by the individual’s unique environment. But the most interesting is that trusting someone seems to be significantly influenced by genetics, while distrust is not. Distrust appears to be primarily socialized.”

For the study, scientists examined sets of adult identical twins who have identical genetic relatedness and non-identical, twins who have different genetic relatedness. This allowed researchers to estimate the relative influence of three different factors on twins’ trust and distrust trust behaviors. The factors are heritable factors, shared environmental factors, and unshared environmental factors.

Reimann said, “If genetics explain variations in distrust and trust behaviors, then identical twins should behave more similarly to each other than fraternal twins. However, the genes of identical twins are shared, while the genes of fraternal twins are only imperfectly correlated.”

Scientists involved 324 identical and 210 fraternal twins in the study. They asked them to perform two tasks. In the first task that represents trust, participants need to decide how much money send to another study participant. Another task that represents distrust, participants need to decide how much money to take away from another participant.

Scientists found the similar trust behavior in identical twin pairs but not their distrust behaviors. This suggests genetics influence trust, but not distrust.

The analysis suggests that almost 30% trust is heritable whereas distrust is not at all. In shared environment, scientists found distrust was 19 percent, while it didn’t contribute at all to trust.

And in the unshared environment, the twins’ independent experiences in life had the biggest impact on both trust and distrust. Their experiences contribute to 81% distrust and 70% trust. Means, much of a person’s propensity to trust or distrust is neither inherited nor commonly socialized. It is influenced by unique experiences in life.

Reimann said, “We all have a stock of past experiences that we draw on to help determine how we are going to behave in different situations. Disposition to trust, however, is not a product of experience alone, genetic influence is also significant. But we don’t see the same genetic influence with distrust.”

Our future research will look at what particular types of life experiences could be the most influential on trust or distrust.”

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